WASHINGTON – After Ford's Theatre closed in 2007 for renovations,Director Paul Tetrault said he didn't think it would be a big project. Since then,costs have grown with ideas for the place where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated 143 years ago.
The project is now trying to raise $50 million. It has raised just under $32 million,with the help of an $8.9 million federal grant and donations from contributors such as Exxon Mobil Corp.,which donated $5 million. Ford's board of trustees is still awaiting approval for a $10 million grant from the District of Columbia.
Although the theater is now a jumbled construction site,it will look much the way it did the night Lincoln was killed,in April 1865,as it has since the last renovation in the 1960s.
But there will be some changes. A new lobby will be dedicated to Lincoln,the basement museum is being renovated and an education center across the street is being built next to the Peterson House,where Lincoln was carried after he was shot and where he died the next day.
“With the exception of the Lincoln Memorial,which is really just a stone statue,beautiful as it may be,it's not a place Abraham Lincoln ever went,” Tetrault said. There's an opportunity for us to be the place for Abraham Lincoln.”
Tretault gave the media a hard-hat tour of the construction site Wednesday and said he hopes Ford's will no longer be known as just the place where the former president was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Tetrault also wants to educate visitors about Lincoln's legacy and great communication skills.
The new lobby will be located in the building next door,and will feature an oval display case containing the coat Lincoln was wearing the night he was shot. A quote from Lincoln's second inaugural address will also be featured on the wall behind the coat.
An additional 5,000 square feet has been added to the theater for the new lobby. The lobby is located in an office building that opened in 2006. A small townhouse,owned by the government,separates the two buildings,and it will be used for circulation of visitors between the old part of Ford's and the new building.
Tetrault added that Ford's doesn't have many parts left from the night Lincoln was assassinated. Tetrault said the government thought the building was cursed at one point. He said Ford's was used as an office building by the government after the Civil War. In 1893,the building collapsed and killed 26 federal employees and injured 60 others. When the building was reopened in 1968 as a theater owned by the National Park Service,everything was renovated. Most of the original parts are dispersed throughout the country. Only the exterior walls of the old building are original.
Associate Producer of Production Kristin Fox-Siegmund said construction of the theater has gone smoothly so far. Workers have improved seating by cutting the number of seats from 682 to 650 and installed an air conditioning system that is half as noisy as the old one to keep it from interfering with plays.
“The hardest part of the construction is bringing a historic building up to modern-day technology,but the Park Service has been very cooperative in helping us make it work,” Fox-Siegmund said.
The theater will reopen on the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth,Feb. 12,2009,with the production of “The Heavens Are Hung in Black” by James Still. The play,about the last three years of Lincoln's life,will run through February.
The plans for the education center are not final,but it will opened sometime in February,and the museum will open that spring.